By Vicki Mortimer
I am just one person among thousands whose future moved a step away again on Saturday.
The day before, I had put my hand up to write the FMTW newsletter. I thought it might be about the work of Future Labs, or the plans for freelancer workshop days, or the new Spa Days this week.
Now the only subject here is this new closure of our industry - not just the closure of the handful of venues in performance, but the closing down of the acts of imagining underway, the fragile beginnings of the physical sharing of experience: the embryonic confidence in gradual renewal which was evident in all of these has been cut short.
Suddenly it’s only about essential survival: individual freelancers unprotected by flimsy contracts, or still unsupported by government schemes. Or still shielding. Hardly any such thing as trickle-down from activity now: even if any of us ever believed that the Culture Recovery Fund could possibly reach many freelancers that way.
And even if you have been eligible for the government self-employed support scheme - although you can apply again, that won’t be online until November 30th.
There have already been enough stories in the last two days to testify to the crucial role of the theatre crisis funds in these next four weeks. Now is the time to know that the money is genuinely for anyone in need - that might be me if I can’t pay my bills, or you if you can’t pay your rent, or your children’s lunch money. The Fleabag Support Fund has already opened to new applicants, and the next round of the Theatre Artists’ Fund will open this Friday (updated application form will be on the website from today, Tuesday 03 November). No process is perfect, but these emergency grants are set up with open-minded generosity by people who have a real idea of the community they work in, and what we are up against.
In the weeks before this, a shattering discrepancy of experience was already revealing itself, with news of those picking up work in the sector contrasting painfully with a different reality for those who were not being - or could not be - included. News stories rightly celebrating resourceful theatre workers finding other jobs - or finding new creativity - threw a shadow on those who perhaps simply could not find the energy or the hope, or who were holding out and waiting for the chance to be part of the scant work being done. Once again, the precariousness of the freelancer’s position was stark - all we each have is of our own making. As well as perhaps the networks we build for ourselves, and even those are vulnerable when the pressure is on.
So in this familiar but devastatingly different shut down, I want to remember the shared experience that got me here. I am a freelancer - a theatre freelancer. My instinct is collective and collaborative. I am limited, when solo, by my singular lifespan, and I understand that the best collaborations occur when differences are welcomed as a strength. I still believe that if we can keep the door open to each other, we will all be better for it. Let us be kind to each other. Let us look out for each other.
So, here’s to the one working in the supermarket, and finding it rewarding; here’s to the one caring for their parent; here’s to the one making endless self-tapes; here’s to the one who can’t get out of bed - let alone the house; here’s to the one writing their first novel; here’s to the one who is afraid to open the post, or answer the door; here’s to the one keeping on dancing; here’s to the one wondering if the industry will ever welcome them; here’s to the one learning new skills; here’s to the one bereaved and grieving; here’s to the one supporting a friend; here’s to the one who thought they’d start their new show this week; here’s to the one finding surprise colleagues in lockdown; here’s to the one with a new political energy; here’s to the one who has spent their savings long ago… and to the one who never had any; here’s to the one inventing new theatre-forms; here’s to the one who thought it might be over by now; here’s to the one with work in the diary; here’s to the one with none… We are all out there, together.